Beenie Man - The Simma Interview
09/11/2023 by Munchy
With Simma the King of the Dancehall Beenie Man released his 17th studio album on September 1, a 20 track opus that emerged from the tragic loss of his beloved mother in 2020. In a personal and deep, yet joyous conversation Munchy connected with Beenie Man in Kingston to find out about the process of coping with loss and the production of this special record, about the relationships with the many feature guests on it and of course the goat on the album cover. The full video interviewed can also be watched here!
We have an occasion to celebrate! Just last week Friday you released your 17th studio album: Simma is out! Beenie Man, I know you’re full of lyrics, but if you had to choose only three words how would you describe this album?
Greatest of all time.
Seen! You said previously when you described the album “people need to calm down and simma. The king is here.” What are people too excited, too hype, too loud about? What are you referring to in particular with that statement?
You see music is something to be hype about but music is something to calm you, music is something to get you through your troubles. Music is something to get you through your distress. Music is something to get you through everything which is a problem. You have people watch movie or they listen to music. So, when you’re making an album, you’re making an album to please everybody. You have a couple that breaks up, they can find a song on your album that they can play to get them back into the mood they need to be in. And then you have a lot of things that are happening to people right through the world where you have a song that can get them back into. It’s not about saying “yeah, the artists are making noise or dem a chat a bag ah foolishness”. It’s just music and I am introducing my music to people. It’s not like I am doing Trap music, not like I’m doing a next music. I am doing Dancehall music in a different form. So, you know, it’s all about that: Simma, the King is still here, don’t worry about the music.
Yeah man, we are really happy that the King is still here and the album is out. Prior to the release you explained that the album took you about three years and the process started with the loss of your dearly beloved mother Lilieth “Mama Lilieth” Sewell in 2020. Please tell me about the process of production and what impressions, emotions, what state of mind had impact on the album?
You see, if you love your mom like how I love my mom… when I lost my mom, it was really a depressing time. It was really distressing like seriously because I did everything. I have to move my mother from out of her house and put her in another house. And then my sisters and breders want to bury her and all of these things and I decided like no, this is not going to happen. I need to see my mother even after 50 years when she died. So, they have to do all of that. Put her through all of that, get it processed in the right way. It was very drastic. But what get interesting is when I start see her in my sleep, all these things. And she said “You need to get back to work. You need to do what you have to do. You need to make sure that you’re alright. Don’t worry about me.” So, yeah, I decided to do that. And this is the result: Simma.
Trust me, regardless of how much stage shows I’ve done in life and regardless of how much Dancehall I’ve done life or how much live performances or how much videos I’ve done in life, this is the body of work that I really committed myself to. This body of work that I never expected to happen but it happened. To do a song with Shaggy on this old beat, to do a song with Sean Paul on the original Movie Star riddim, it’s not easy. It’s very easy for me to go into the studio and say “Alright, come let us make a song!” but make a song that I want to make it never happened unless there’s a company behind it or somebody’s paying some money. From I walked into the studio everybody just ready to work and yah, it was very entertaining and fulfilling. It fulfilled my heart to know that all the artists were willing to do this job with me. It was a great feeling, trust me. To make this album the work was not even easy, it was wow! It was playful, it was enjoyful, and it was lively and lovely.
That’s wonderful. Did this whole process also help to cope with the loss? Because your album Back To Basics was written in the hospital bed, after your car accident, also a pretty impactful event in your life.
It’s not always a tragedy that make I make a great album but it just happened that way (laughs). Many Moods of Moses wasn’t a tragedy, Blessed wasn’t a tragedy, Maestro wasn’t none of that. Sometimes when you have done your best work, sometimes it’s going through fatal depression. You just want to get over it and the only way to get over it is to go in the studio and do what you do best: make music.
Right, right. So we’re looking forward to more music and less tragedy.
Yah, we’re always looking towards that but life is life. You cannot fight what to come.
No, you don’t have no influence on that.
If I could peak through a keyhole and see the future and I would tell you that tomorrow it will be rainy… but tomorrow set for no one.
That’s true! This album was created with the productions of many, many amazing producers and musically it’s very diverse. How did styles like Drill and Afrobeats end up on this album?
Remember that Dancehall has created all this music. Dancehall created Drill, Dancehall created Afrobeats, Dancehall created all this music… So, in a sense you’re still doing Dancehall. The beat is just different. But slightly you have the same kick, you have the same hi-hat, you have the same bass. Because all this music never have no bass until Dancehall start boom, boom, budum (sings a bass line). So, you’re still doing Dancehall regardless of what they call the music. It’s just you to put lyrics to it and make them know that this is our music. Because if it wasn’t Dancehall I could deejay on it, I’d have to sing. You get what I’m saying? Like the Janet Jackson song is not Dancehall. It was created by a Hip Hop producer who makes Pop music. So, this is Pop music. (sings part of Feel It Boy) That’s a different thing. That is like your singjaying but you’re still deejaying because you have to put the Jamaican vibes in the music for people to understand that you are you. But on this album I don’t have to do nothing like that more than just put ME.
Put you, put the King and King is the second track after the really cool and mellow Simma. King is a dark, a powerful, a massive track I can absolutely imagine you start a concert with. You said you want to do what you “love best, touring”… will you present this album live? If so when and where can the people see you?
Very soon, don’t worry about it. We have a show that we planning to present the album. And I think the show should be a live show online, on TV and everywhere. So, people can really get the full album. But we are still in rehearsal working out the music, working out the lyrics, doing all of that. We’re doing that. You will know exactly when it’s coming.
Alright, definitely looking forward to that. So, we have King, this track I love so much followed by mad Dancehall track Sharp Shooter and then Chop Suey. Why dem call you Chop Suey?!
Yeah, well, the girls think I’m nice like food. What you saying? Everybody eats Chinese food. Think about it. Even the Africans eat Chinese food. (laughs) So, why not be Chop Suey?! You can’t just be Jerk Chicken. Everybody don’t know about Jerk Chicken. There you go.
Alright, you have to cater to everybody, to every gyal…
… that know about nice food. Chop Suey is the thing.
So, do you also love Chop Suey? Do you also eat Chop Suey?
Well, food is food.
You don’t have no favorite food?
No, me nuh fight food war, me just nuh eat pork. My favorite food is Jamaican food, turn cornmeal and steam fish. Can’t eat it every day, but…
Besides Chop Suey they also call you the Doctor. This album had you reunite with Mya again, 23 years after Girls Dem Sugar for the single Doctor. How was this reunion and how was the energy like when you created this combination?
The energy was great because Mya is always my friend. She’s always been there, she always supported my music right through. Because, remember, the song with me and Mya is one of her biggest songs, so she always performs the song on stage and this song take her across the world because she’s American and you know how the thing go, we win a Grammy for the song and all these things. You know what happened. So, she’s always there, she’s always waiting for when I’m ready to make a music. Always. So, as I call her, she’s Bang, one time.
The girls are lucky when they get the Doctor. They are less happy with a break up, a situation you deal with in Let Go with Tina aka Hood Celebrityy. Even though the topic breaking up with a partner is a rough issue, the whole song is kind of cool and calm…
… and nice, yah.
Yeah! So, is that the irony, dealing with that that rational?
It’s the irony. The problem is that you’re breaking up and feeling good at the same time. Because it’s not a choice of you’re fighting. It’s just you’re doing things your partner is not agreeing with. So, we’re better if we just cut. If you not deal with what I deal with, better you just cut. You see it. So, it’s not really you cheating or you having a next girlfriend or she having a next boyfriend. It’s just she’s doing things that you don’t like and you do things that she don’t like. So, you tell her who you are and she tells you who she is and the two of you just work it out and say “It’s better if we just Let Go.” It’s better being friends more than being together.
Which is right, but do you think that people can really deal with the matter that cool and calm and rational?
Yeah, well, everybody who have a relationship that end like that can deal with it. It’s not everybody can relate because you have people have relationships that break up sadly by war or fight or some things. But you have people in the world that just decide say better me go right and you go left without fighting or flinging a stone.
Right, and you said you wrote songs that everyone can relate to… We mentioned several collabs already. The list of feature guests on Simma is humungous. You mentioned that some collaborations came about because you did songs for artists on their respective albums and they returned the favor. How did really interesting combinations like Sean Paul and Red Rose or Charly Black and Louie Culture get together?
Those two just happened, you know. The night I was recording the song (sings piece of Prayers), then Charly Black walks in the studio. He came to book a birthday party for his birthday. But me ah say “OK, me need you pon da song ya.” Him ah say “Wha’ you need pon da song because I never heard Charly Black doing this genre.” and as an artist, as a Dancehall artist you have to go through every genre. Go through Reggae, you have to go through Roots, and you have to go through Dancehall. So, I introduced him to this part of the roots and said “This is Roots and Culture. This is where the people who listen to Roots a go listen to you fam.” So, I give him that idea and he went. Then Louie Culture just walk in the studio same time and he was keeping a birthday party, too. (laughs) Everybody come fi book a show and end up booking on the track. And the track end up beautiful because everybody is the same format they want to go into. Especially Louie Culture, that’s his format. That’s not even my format, seriously, but I decided to do that song because we need a Prayer. We cannot have a whole album without somebody praying for the world.
Definitely! The next combination, the Sean Paul and Red Rose thing: Supa Star...
We were actually making some music, me and Anthony Red Rose. We make like three songs together. He came with some other artists and some other artists and some other direction from some other music… And then me get the riddim. I was actually playing the riddim in the studio and him start humm a melody and me ah say “That melody sound good, unno.” So, I say “OK, make we do it like this.” (sings piece of Supa Star) Now that put me in a different mood, so me haffi build my own entire verse. After that… Sean Paul, he was in America, was coming in the next day. So, we put off the voicing until the next day. Red Rose did his hook and I wait until Sean Paul came in, then I did my verse. And then him realize where we exactly coming from because I like when the food cook fresh. You can’t eat the food two days after. You have to hot it up back again. We need when the pot come off the fire and the food hot. You eat the food, the food right, you see it. That’s what happened to that song. It wasn’t hard, it was simple.
Why did you choose to incorporate this organ element from the Movie Star riddim from Penthouse?
Yeah, well, alright, Movie Star is one of every Jamaican’s favorite songs, from Delroy Wilson days up to when Buju Banton and Wayne Wonder did it. It’s always one of our favorite songs. It’s a song that we always knew as a song that will always be a Roots Jamaican song. Not only Roots, but a love song that can be put in a R’n’B category. We wasn’t singing about a girl fi tell her that “I may not be a superstar or a movie star”, you know. This is not those days. Those days is when a man a try fi tell a woman say “I may not be financially fully but I will kill you with love”. So, now is “We are financially good”. Sean Paul is good, Red Rose good, me good. You understand what I’m saying? So, this is now for people to know that we’re doing the superstar thing. If you see us with a girl we don’t have to tell her nothing, she knows exactly what is happening. So, it’s all about telling the people where we’re coming from to where we’re at now. We are coming from telling people how poor we was to telling people “This is where we reach”. We can go to any arena, full out any arena. We can to any stadium, full out any stadium. We’re living a superstar lifestyle. It’s not boasting or bragging, it’s just telling people that we are here.
And I think that you and Red Rose have a history of friendship as well…
Yah, yah… he is the one that make me who I am.
Tell me what happened, what he did.
Red Rose, he is the one who produced Bad Man Wicked Man (sings part of the song) from long time. And I know Red Rose from Tubby’s days, from he just come out. So, me and Red Rose have been friends from wow… wow… since I was what seven years of age?! Yeah. That’s how long I know Red Rose.
That is a long history. And also a friendship?
Always. Trust me. I know Red Rose from the 80s. Not the 90s, from the 80s like 1983, 1982, dem time, like long time.
You mentioned some of the artists like Shaggy, Sean Paul, Red Rose. When you work with younger artists, let’s say for example Dexta Daps, Shenseea and so forth… Is that a situation where you would say you as the elder statesman with the decades of experience are more the mentor and the teacher in the studio…wwww
Not really, it wasn’t about that. Me and Dexta Daps deh pon a mutual respect. The first time that I’ve worked with Dexta Daps was on his album. And then he play a beat for me and say he’s trying to find a song for the beat and can’t find a song for the beat. So, I say “Wha’ ya do, the beat bad.” But he said he doesn’t know which direction to go. So, I start and then he start think and then he find. So, he get to realize now working with an artist with mutual respect is you show him something that he think was impossible but is possible. So, there’s a possibility right through all music. So, when he find that punchline and I find the verses, it was very easy. Then he decide say “Me need a verse, too” and then we do a verse. Now, this is the song on his album Vent. So, I call him now for my album and then when he came, he just start sing because he don’t want me to start sing before him again. So, it’s a matter of showing that “I have learned”. That was a great thing!
Shenseea is the same thing. She come with her album and I go brrrrp one time and then I send my song go give her and she show me that she learned.
I’m not teaching them, they are getting example and professional advice and they check it and they move with it. And that’s the only way you can get through music. Because if I never listen to Bob Marley or Peter Tosh or Shabba Ranking and Ninjaman, I wouldn’t be the man that I am today. I appreciate that and I love that. Jamaicans call that professional courtesy but we call it mutual courtesy because I respect them the same way they respect me. So, it’s not a professionalism or who in the business longer than who. It’s just: what are you doing in your own career and you make yourself a person that the people want to see. I did that for myself. They did that for them. I appreciate them, them appreciate me.
I mentioned being a mentor, being a role model, not just for other artists… but when I listened the album, what I recognized is that there is no negativity, no glorifying of any form of violence, nothing like that… Is that something that you decided deliberately, saying “I don’t want to be that” or is just your nature that fuels what is on the album?
No, it’s not really nature. I have a kid that’s becoming five years old and I like for her to listen to my album, too. You make songs for your family and everybody out there, not only for you, you make songs for everybody listening to: the grandmother, the great grandmother, your mother, your father, everybody can listen to. So, it’s not really something that we plan to do. It’s a life that you grow into. Because, remember when we boss 1992 it was the gun talk (sings piece of Bad Man Wicked Man). Them time I was a young man. What is happening now, is you’re providing for your family. This is what is happening. So, when you come of age to know that your family is listening to your songs, you have to sing songs that they can listen to. So, when they have their family, they can say “oh, this is your grandfather”. That is the message that I’m trying to send. Make good music, good music lasts forever.
Remember Bob Marley said “I shot the Sheriff” but guess what he never did, he never shoot the deputy. The sheriff had to do something wrong to get shot, don’t it? (laughs) Me just ah say…
Once more we have it: music and album, songs for everybody, from the child to the grandmother, great grandmother…
The cover is also something I would love to speak about. The artwork is beautiful with a variety of elements: a goat as a symbol for Greatest Of All Time, fire, a strong, historic stone structure, a kingly coat. Can you explain to me why you chose those elements that we see on the picture?
You see, this is the reason why you have good people working for you because good people think of you in a different manner. People think of you in the way that they want to see you exactly. Sometimes you have a man that says “yo, better you put on a pretty shirt or put on a pants” when people see you as a king and accept you as that person. That’s the project they want to see with you. So, this is the reason why I think they chose that type of pictures and that type of things. I didn’t do none of that, it was all MD Entertainment. It wasn’t my choice. But I went with it because I am the man who has to put on all of that. And I am the man who has a big ram goat beside me. Ram goat dem really buck like seriously…
So, how did this goat collaborate during this photo shoot?
Well, the goat just walk up.
The goat was looking into the camera when it was supposed to do that?
We’re just in the woods and the goat just walk up. So, we just decided to keep it.
So, that wasn’t planned?
No. It just walk up. We in the bush… (laughs) The goat just walk up and the camera man take the first picture and the goat couldn’t move again because the camera man like the picture and he said “yo, the goat inna di picture unno”, so I say “Alright… Greatest of all time”…
Yes, exactly! Because it looks absolutely as if you planned that.
It wasn’t a plan. The goat just walk up and stand up and look into the camera saying “Yo, wha’happen to unno?! Take mi picture, too!” And they couldn’t move him because they try move him and then he start buck, so they just leave him and him just stand up and don’t move until the whole shoot finish. He was there all day. Until the owner come for him and put a rope round his neck trying… That was not a plan.
Right, it wasn’t a plan but with it being a goat and the answer to my first question, it couldn’t be any better, right?
It couldn’t be any better, seriously. And it worked, because everybody wondered about the picture of the goat, but the goat just come. I don’t know who sent him. They say sometimes God works in mysterious ways. So, I think God was being mysterious that day. (laughs) He was in a good mood that day, seriously.
So, at this point now, with 17 studio albums out and at 50 years of age and I have to say Happy Birthday still, all the very best, are you at a point in life now - also when you look at the cover where you look very thoughtful and reminiscing – where you look back or are you still hungry and looking for the next 17 albums to come?
Yeah man, I look for the next 17 albums because in music you cannot be comfortable. Because there are so much things happening in the world that you need to sue the world with music. It’s only music alone can sue the world. With all of these things going on in Russia and all these things, they just need a good concert and everybody will be alright, you get what I’m saying?! So, it’s only music can sue the world. With all these things happening in the world you cannot sit down and think “yeah, everything alright…” You have to continually think about how to make people feel good. It’s not about how you feel and what you think or what you feel that your music reached and “yeah, we reached the highest point”… You never reach the highest point in music. Never will ever reach the highest point in music. Anybody that you hear resign from music, they make too much money, that’s why. They come in the music for money. But there’s nobody in this world of megadome that loves music and resigns because they make enough money. Trust me.